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Pinellas restaurants at home in former houses

Sometimes eating out is more fun when you feel like you're eating in. That's one reason several restaurant owners in the area operate in venues that were once homes.

Jeff Schorr and his wife, Stephanie, spent almost two years renovating a 1918 house to be the setting for Craftsman House restaurant and art gallery. The house, at 2955 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg, was the model home for the Historic Kenwood neighborhood.

"We wanted to be in a house for more of a homey feel," Schorr said. "For the gallery side of it, it works well because we're displaying in that home setting so people can visualize how something could look in their own home. We didn't want it to be a stuffy, intimidating gallery."

In keeping with the Arts and Crafts architecture philosophy of extending the living area outside, the Schorrs added a deck and a courtyard that leads to the former carriage house that's now a pottery studio with a gas kiln. Customers who dine on the front porch, courtyard or in the sunroom eat off of handmade plates.

"There were a lot of sunrooms at that time because tuberculosis was pretty prevalent and doctors prescribed a lot of sitting down and resting in sunshine," Schorr said.

A few miles away, the Ringside Cafe at 2742 Fourth St. N serves up lunch and dinner along with live music in a house that has had several lives.

"It was a boardinghouse at one point, I'm told. After the boardinghouse it became a boxing gym. That's why the original Fourth Street Boxing Gym door is here," said Greg Pugh, who owns the popular restaurant with his wife, Kelly. They bought it in 1993, about four years after the first owners had done the renovation, and named it Ringside Cafe.

A woman Pugh estimated to be in her late 80s has stopped in to eat and told him she grew up there when it was a boardinghouse. She walked through and pointed to which room was hers and where her bathroom was. The house has been remodeled so much the bathroom she spoke of was no longer there, but Pugh knew from the floor plans that there had indeed been a bathtub and sink there at one point.

He likes that it has a history.

"Our office is upstairs and the windows are angled (facing the interior) because that was the announcer's booth when it was a boxing gym," Pugh added. Surprisingly, the kitchen is upstairs, too. So every time food is served or someone drops his fork and needs a new one, the wait staff gets its exercise.

Gulfport has its share of restaurants with a history, too. Peg's Cantina and Brew Pub sits at 3038 Beach Blvd. S in a house that was built in 1930. A burrito's throw away is Backfin Blue Cafe at 2913 Beach Blvd. S. in a bungalow built in 1920. Smokin' J's BBQ at 5145 Gulfport Blvd. operates in a house built in 1954 that has been updated enough that it looks almost new. It has all the comforts of a home, including a driveway and garage, as well as real Texas-style barbecue.

There are others as well. The Cottage Café in Largo was a home and then an antique shop that 16 years ago morphed into a restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"People can come and talk to one another and don't have to talk over one another," said owner Debi Hunter. "It's not like being in the hustle and bustle of other restaurants, and that brings us a lot of business."

But Hunter said one challenge is the size of the kitchen.

"We have a very small kitchen," she said. "It's a very functional kitchen and people are amazed about what comes out of the kitchen. But that seems to be the hardest part of the business, not having that big fancy kitchen — but that's part of the charm, too."

Staff writer Demorris A. Lee contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@sptimes.com.

Pinellas restaurants at home in former houses 09/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 1:35pm]
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